Jurassic Park Meets The Odyssey, Dance New Amsterdam Begins Its Winter 2011 Season

In New York City, as with most cities, dinosaurs can mostly be found in museums and libraries.  Their ravenous existence is now just a tale to be told – bones to be examined and gawked at.  But this winter, Clarinda Mac Low and Jordana Che Toback with the assistance of Dance New Amsterdam has resurrected the Paleolithic reptiles in A dinosaur attacks a lighthouse (Scylla and Charybdis), part of DNA’s SPLICE series and the start of DNA’s winter season.

Created in 2010, the SPLICE series is an innovative, creative collaborative endeavor displaying the unique talents of two artists.  Clarinda Mac Low and Jordana Che Toback are both award-winning choreographers with their own distinct methodology to approaching the vocabulary of dance and performance art.  With SPLICE they debut a duel work as well as individual works.

A dinosaur attacks a lighthouse (Scylla and Charybdis) is a satirical, political multimedia performance piece that exposes the complacency that is destroying our democracy – a fact that most of us are afraid to confront.  Dressed in Sarah Palinesque red suits, Mac Low and Che Toback playfully mill around with the rhetoric displayed during most political campaigns – which can compare to a Broadway production.  Through song and dance they create a cheeky think-piece that will have the mind spinning.  Crush the Pearl Part 1, choreographed by Jordana Che Toback, is a platform that explores the power and sensuality of motion.  Clarinda Mac Low’s Double Public Blunder: Monster-us is an intentional journey into calamity.  Performed by Clarinda Mac Low and Michael DiPietro Double Public Blunder is both uncomfortable and entertaining.

Part bondage, Part orgy and part SNL skit, A dinosaur attacks a lighthouse (Scylla and Charybdis) as well as Mac Low and Che Toback’s other pieces were a worthy effort in expanding the dialogue of movement and the effect it can have on those who view it.  It also sets the bar for what should be an engaging, fascinating 2011 at Dance New Amsterdam and proves that DNA is a beacon for New York City artists looking to express themselves without inhibition.

Photos: Paula Lobo

Masterpiece in the Making

In 2000, the idea of the female MC standing on her own was non-exisistent – almost laughable.   It had seemed that the pioneering efforts of Salt & Pepper, Queen Latifah, MC Lyte and Lauren Hill were all but forgotten about as female rap artists were relegated to play the sexy side-kick in a hip hop buddy movie literally – only playing a role in a male dominated crew.  Fast forward to the end of 2010 and a female MC’s debut album was one of the most anticipated albums of the year.  Nicki Minaj’s Pink Friday garnered platinum status within a month of its release and along with BET’s documentary My Mic Sounds Nice; it appeared that the industry and the world was taking an interest in female rappers once again.  Poised to take the stage and stake her claim on hip hop is Kyah Baby. 

Kyah Baby is a Queens native with a regal vocal delivery that has not forgotten her hip hop roots.  Proof of that is her single titled “L.O.H.H (Ladies of Hip Hop)” which pays homage to all the women who paved the way for the female rappers of today.  Since signing with Selfish Music Group a year ago, Kyah has been featured on “Standing on Couches” with Jim Jones, Lil Kim and Lloyd Banks and has received spins on Hot 97 and Power 105.1.   At the end of 2010, Kyah released her debut mixtape titled The Rough Draft, a slight glimpse of this female lyrist’s true talent.  If The Rough Draft actually lives up to its title, then I predict this female MC will definitely be a part of the new wave of female rappers sweeping hip hop. 

F.A.M.E NYC had an opportunity to speak to Kyah Baby about The Rough Draft, her musical style and influences.

How did you first begin your relationship with DJ Self and the Selfish Music Group?

I first began my relationship with DJ Self when I met him through another artist on Selfish Music Group. Self had heard me on a mixtape and was interested in having me as an artist as soon as he heard me. I went to go meet him at the station; we discussed some things and took it from there.

How did growing up in Queens influence your musical style and vocal delivery?

I don’t think Queens itself influenced my musical style and delivery; I think my experiences in life did that. But, growing up in Queens has given me certain knowledge and encouragement that it is possible for someone like me to make it.  When growing up, I saw people like LL Cool J, Mobb Deep, 50 Cent [and] at present Nicki [Minaj] made it, it gives me a lot of faith and hope.

How did you receive the name the Freestyle Princess?

[Laughs]  I never heard that nickname before, maybe the “Princess of Hip Hop.”   But I am known for blessing the people with a quick 16 [bars].

What compelled you to write and record “L.O.H.H (Ladies of Hip Hop)”?

It’s funny because I tell the same story every time. What actually influenced me was when I was at Summer Jam.   I was saddened to see only one female performing there. It just made me reminisce on when there were many females in the game all at once – all for one in unity. I just thought it would be the right thing to do, to show these women that they are remembered and have made a difference for females in the game as well as up & coming females like myself.

The new millennium has thus far seen a virtual disappearance of female MCs from mainstream hip hop.  Do you believe that the success of Nicki Minaj is ushering a new age for ladies in hip hop?

I really can’t call it, it’s just the beginning.  I’m focused on my music.   My first mixtape The Rough Draft is out right now and available to download for free on www.datpiff.com.

How did you come up with the title of your new mixtape?

It came from the first title I had for my mixtape, which was actually Sincerely, Kyah, but then I thought that sounds like the end of something.  I’m fresh and new, so I have to start from scratch. That’s when I thought…before you compose a proper piece of writing, you go through the outline, the rough draft, the edited version, the final essay, things like that.  So, I just figured ‘Hey, why not start out with the rough draft.’

What is your favorite track off The Rough Draft?

My favorite track off The Rough Draft is number five, “Doesn’t Matter.”  The song is really personal [and] about things I’ve been through with friends and family as well as my personal thoughts on a lot of things.

Name your top five Hip Hop albums/mixtapes of all time.

Wow, top five in hip hop.  It’s funny because I grew up off R&B, [Laughs].  I would have to say Jay-Z’s Blueprint 3, Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP, 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’, Lil’ Kim’s Hardcore and Biggie’s Life After Death.

Do you have performances lined up?  If so, where?

There’s no official dates yet, but if you stay connected with me and follow me on twitter.com/KYAHBABY_SMG, that’s @KYAHBABY_SMG , I’ll definitely post show dates, radio interviews, videos and photo shoots, so look out for that.   Also, make sure you type “Kyah Baby” in YouTube.  My videos are up, so go check that out as well.

Besides The Rough Draft, what else should your fans expect from you in 2011?

The Rough Draft was 2010, [Laughs].   For 2011, they can expect more videos, more songs [and] more mixtapes… basically a takeover!

Fame, No Detours

While making the rounds at different art shows and fairs for F.A.M.E NYC, I have met my fair share of artists, curators and collectors.  No one will dispute that New York City is the Mecca for art in North America.  Aspiring and even established artists migrate to New York in the hopes of being on the positive end of the statement, “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.”  Artists like Jennifer Murray, who just celebrated the opening of her first solo show at a New York City gallery, or Billy the Artist, whom I first met in 2007 and whose services have been commissioned by Hyundai, Sony and MTV,  are well on their way to creating a prosperous career in the art world.  But if you are fresh off the bus from Penn Station and looking to make a name for yourself, what happens next?  You find employment just to get by, create art whenever you can and pray that success finds you.   Katharine T. Carter believes that this philosophy will only lead to failure.   Poverty is not mark of a good artist nor is it necessary for anyone looking to live as an artist.

Katharine T. Carter is President and CEO of Katharine T. & Associates, a PR and promotional marketing firm exclusively for artists.  With the help of fellow art colleagues, she combined 25 years of experience, advice and essays to create her own seminal work of art titled Accelerating on the Curves: The Artist’s Roadmap to Success, a 363-page beacon that guides an artist through the channels of obscurity and places them on the fast track to notoriety and financial achievement. 

Accelerating on the Curves: The Artist’s Roadmap to Success consists of three books and meticulously details how an artist constructs his/her career.  Book one has nine chapters and three stages.  Stage one begins on the local and state level and features how to create a buzz wherever the artist resides by meeting the right people, generating the proper media presence and exhibiting and selling the artist’s work.  Stage two illustrates how to take the foundation created in stage one, and expand the artist’s profile regionally.  Stage three demonstrates what is needed for the artist to complete his/her ultimate destination and national recognition.  Book two contains the blueprint for manufacturing a winning press kit.  Book three is a composite of inspiring essays written by art insiders.

 Ever since man began painting crude images on walls, there have been individuals blessed with the gift to create a dialogue with humanity without words.   There have also been those who choose to see their talent as not only a gift, but a calling – a means to craft a destiny.  But as time shifts, the way in which an artist becomes prominent in his/her time has most certainly changed.  If paint, canvases, brushes and other elements used to create art are essential tools for an artist’s survival, then Accelerating on the Curves: The Artist’s Roadmap to Success must be considered an indispensible component as well.  It exposes how to turn one’s art into a business using the media and networking, and is a bible for anyone pursuing a thriving career in the arts.  It is a worthy read for any artisan regardless the genre and promises to be the best $95 investment you will ever make. 

Photo courtesy of Katherine T. Carter & Associates

The Bitch in Me

As a small girl I kept my face in books (perhaps that is why I am writer today). Reading to my mother while she made dinner was one of my favorite pastimes.  The XX chromosome dictated my reading selection and I always seemed to fancy tales that were epic in scale, took place in a land far away and had at least one damsel in distress. Not only did the words enrapture me, but the illustrations kept me fascinated as well.  In the myths and fairytales I read as a child, the wolf always played an essential role.  In Little Red Riding Hood the wolf was a cross dresser that had such an obsession with the girl in the crimson cloak that he slaughtered her grandmother and pretended to be her in an effort to get close to his target.  In ancient mythology, a she-wolf suckled twins Romulus and Remus.  Her milk-filled tits fed the starving babies that were abandoned and left to die.  She was their first foster mother, and as men the twins would become known as the founding fathers of Rome.

Jennifer Murray has her own story with the she-wolf.  As we stood in front of one her creations last Thursday, she revealed to me the catalyst that manifested into the furry siren.  While in college, Jennifer was experiencing circumstances that required a Waiting to Exhale moment.  When she finally had the opportunity to release, a wolf was delivered.  Further developing the seed that had been planted long ago, Jennifer brings the mysticism and allure of the she-wolf and cougar that has been skulking in our social conscious to the surface in Displaced Fables/Damaged Dreams, her first solo exhibition.   Displaced Fables/Damaged Dreams is an imaginative exploration of the female mystique and its multiple perceptions.  Using charcoal sketches on stretched paper, mixed media canvases and hanging installations, Jennifer balances the fierceness, femininity and fragility of these creatures with great detail and perfect symmetry.   With baroque fabrics, flowery patterns, wallpaper with foliage and yarn she literally weaves a tapestry of visual anecdotes that create a new vocabulary for women.

With “The Queen/Bitch Diptych” Jennifer presents the face of two she-wolves, their necks surrounded with fabric like a Medici collar.  The canine lassies hang side by side one looking stoic and magnanimous, the other is tempestuous with snarling fangs.  “White Drawing I” displays a she-wolf haphazardly suspended in white sheets, perhaps the colorless cloth is preventing her from moving or could be removing her from a perilous encounter, thereby becoming her saving grace.  “Decoy Triptych” depicts a wolf straddling a sheep and a sheep mounting a wolf cleverly exposing the facades we flaunt when hiding our true selves. What I found particularly interesting about this piece were the beleaguered expressions of the mounted animals, they reflect the burden of constantly having to carry a disguise.

I first became acquainted with Jennifer Murray and her work at the last year’s Affordable Art Fair.  Upon first glance I knew I would like to see more of her creations.  In total, I was extremely impressed with Jennifer’s initial introduction to the New York City art scene.  Displaced Fables/Damaged Dreams achieved its goals in positioning the viewer in fragmented narratives and dreamlike visions allowing us to decipher how textile flying machines, birds, wolves and cougars related to our human experience.   As I toured the exhibit, I kept returning to Spiker,” a drawing of a cougar with bold material covering her back.  She was crouched, her front paws resembling a pouncing stance.  Her eyes were sexy, determined and primal.  Looking at this totemic symbol of womanhood I was reminded that within me and every woman there is a little girl playing dress up, a battle-axe ready to strike, a wolf ready to howl at the moon and an empress ready rule.  The trick is harmonizing these characters in the story of our lives as effortlessly as Jennifer composed the scenes of this exhibit.

Displaced Fables/Damaged Dreams will be on display at Raandesk Gallery, located on 16 W. 23rd Street until March 5.

Photos:  MyNameIsPhoto.com and F.A.M.E NYC Editor

Slideshow:  F.A.M.E NYC Editor

A Freestyle Thing

In the 90’s freestyling, an improvisational form of rapping in which lyrics are produced off-the-top-of-the-head, was the test to prove a rapper’s true MCing prowess.   With an accompaniment of a beat box, track or simply acapella, rappers proved why this burgeoning form of music was truly an art.  In the theatre, the art of improvisation is nothing new; improvised performing can be traced back as far back as the 16th centuries across Europe.  Modern improv is generally accredited to Viola Spolin, widely considered to be the grandmother of improvisational theatre and falls into two groupings, shortform and longform.

Fusing the best of shortform (short scenes initiated by an audience suggestion) and longform (a production in which short scenes are connected by the story and characters), Baby Wants Candy is an autoschediastical klatsch of epic proportions.  A cast of rotating players breaks the fourth wall (generally a standard in live theatre) and asks the audience for a title to a production that has never been seen.  Once one is shouted out, the actors and a live band construct a side-splitting musical that is guaranteed to be one of the blithest 60-minutes one will ever spend in a theatre.  Baby Wants Candy offers an once-in-a-lifetime theatre experience; the scenes, dialogue and musical numbers are only displayed for that performance.  If you missed it, then you missed it.  But the silver lining is there is always an innovative, clever, inspiring musical on the horizon just waiting for the audience to name it.  Baby Wants Candy is an unforgettable display of the human imagination.

Like hip hop, jazz is another musical genre that welcomes improvisation.  A group of players on stage make an offer, inviting us to come on an aural journey of pop-up riffs and harmonious ad-libs. It is an offer most times the audience can not refuse.  In improvisational theatre, an offer, which refers to an actor defining a scene, is also made.  Once an offer is accepted, another actor will initiate a new offer and so on creating a spontaneous house of cards.  Improvisers call this “Yes, And…”  While watching artisans on stage, I also have a sort of “Yes, And…” experience.  Generally it happens when something is lacking in the performance, but with this troupe of zany entertainers, I did not say, “Yes, and…,” I screamed, “Woohoo!”  On the way home I had to convince myself that the audience member that provided the title was not a mole, which I believe is the greatest testimony to the cast’s mastery of their art.  Baby Wants Candy makes me crave improv. 

Baby Wants Candy will be performing Saturday evenings at the SoHo Playhouse, located on 15 Vandam Street, until February 26.  To learn more about Baby Wants Candy, click www.babywantscandy.com.

Cast photo and logo courtesy of Noreen Heron & Associates, Inc.

Top Artist for 2010

Jason Bryant

Portraits with no eyes yet cleverly and brilliantly full of soul and expression.  That is the world that Jason Bryant invites us to.  Blending elements of classic Hollywood, modern pop and skateboard culture, he dares us to explore beyond the façade and creates a vivid and unique vernacular in which to express the human experience.  In 2010, Jason Bryant had two exhibitions at Raandesk Gallery, a solo exhibit and a collaboration with Kevin Cyr, another bright artist from NYC.  I never tire of viewing Jason’s work and cannot wait to embark on another soulful journey with this fascinating, modest young artist.  To read F.A.M.E NYC’s full articles on Jason Bryant or view more of his work, click http://famenycmagazine.com/2010/10/18/three-dimensions-one-mind

http://famenycmagazine.com/2010/01/28/behind-the-curtain-unveiled/

http://www.raandeskgallery.com/artist.php?artistId=7

Photo courtesy of Raandesk Gallery

Top NYC Documentary for 2010

80 Blocks from Tiffany’s

Actually, this documentary is an oldie but goodie – a cult classic.  Re-released after 25 years on DVD, 80 Blocks from Tiffany’s resurrects the apocalyptic conditions of life in the South Bronx in the late 70s and early 80s that later gave birth to hip hop and its culture.  Released in 1979, 80 Blocks from Tiffany’s focused on two street gangs, the Savage Nomads and Savage Skulls.  The idea for the documentary came to director Gary Weis after reading “Savage Skulls,” an article by Jon Bradshaw published by Esquire Magazine which centered on both gangs.  After convincing SNL producer Lorne Michaels to help him produce the film, Weis and a camera crew went into one of the deadliest areas in New York City – a combat zone where various gangs ruled the streets serving their own brand of justice and terrorism.  Weis, Bradshaw and crew spent two weeks in the South Bronx speaking with and recording gang members, police officers, community activists and civilians. 

The title, 80 Blocks from Tiffany’s, referred to the distance between the much glamorized jewelry store on 5th Avenue and the South Bronx.   A viable walking distance for anyone that has the moxie, but too far the young men and women living a virtual Mad Max existence who had never been out of the Bronx.  The dilapidated, burned-out buildings, plots of barren land, and abject poverty displayed in the film were light years away from the famed store turned iconic by a Truman Capote novel and Blake Edwards film in which the heroine claimed that nothing could go wrong in Tiffany’s.  These young adults had no fabulous shelter to run to, so they created their own shelter, families, laws and opportunities in hellish conditions. 

Stark…inexorable…undeniably real, 80 Blocks from Tiffany’s has received a following that far outreached the expectations Gary Weis ever had for the film.  Part of the reason for its cult status is because of the participants in the film.  These young men were angels with tattered wings and filthy faces who admitted to beatings, rapes, robbery and other crimes, yet their compelling presence demanded viewers to see past their deeds and peer into their souls.  As mundane and clichéd as it sounds, they were the fruit of their environment, how could any viewer really judge having never experienced their life. These men and women were the displaced members of the civil rights movement that did not come up like George and Weezie, but instead got left behind.   And as the dust settled from riots, arson, the flooding of drugs into their community and the economic climate of the day (which was just as dismal as our present condition) they were forced to fend for themselves by any means necessary. 

The other component that draws people to the film is the portrait it casts on New York City, which serves as a microcosm for all inner-cities in the 70s.  After watching this 67-minute narrative of barrio life, you will completely appreciate how granular this metropolis really was.  Also, you will understand the correlation between the gang culture of NYC and its influence on the genesis of hip hop.  These gang members were the catalyst and founding fathers of hip hop culture, patriarchs like Afrika Bambaataa, a founding member of the Black Spades who used hip hop to thwart kids away from gang life and the violence that accompanies it.  

Mesmerizing from beginning to end, 80 Blocks from Tiffany’s is a collector’s item for anyone that loves New York or hip hop history, it is an essential slice of Americana that worth revisiting and should never fall back into obscurity again.

 

Photo and trailer courtesy of Audible Treats

Top Documentary about a New Yorker for 2010

Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child

 

First released at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2010, then released nationwide in June, Jean Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child is Tamara Davis’ visual love letter profiling one the most enigmatic, creative entities that ever passed through the streets of Gotham. 

When Basquiat died at age 27 in 1988 of a heroin overdose, he had already been recognized as a prodigy who was equally known for being infamous.  Since his untimely death, he has ascended beyond the classifications that hindered him in life to become one of the most famous artists of his generation.  Being the first black fine artist to not only break in America, but internationally, he reached a pantheon of that few black artists attain – a trailblazer burdened with the responsibility of being the first, a star that ultimately becomes an anomaly that neither well-meaning liberals nor conservatives know what to do with.

Brilliant and tragic…beautiful and scarred…extremely personal and striking, this documentary presents an introspective portrait of Basquiat’s life through rare footage and interviews with Basquiat, as well as remarks from friends, colleagues and ex-girlfriends.  The film begins with Langston Hughes’ poem Genius Child.  It chronicles his move from Brooklyn to NYC in the late 70s, which was laden with crime and economic hardship, the forming of the band Gray (comprised of himself, Shannon Dawson, Michael Holman, Wayne Clifford, Nicholas Taylor, and Vincent Gallo and named after Gray’s Anatomy by Henry Gray) and his rise as a star in the downtown art scene from the SAMO graffiti to his first shows.  It also provides a comprehensive review of Basquiat’s work, paying homage to other artists, and chronicling the black experience in America, as well as details his isolation, becoming a prisoner of the fame he sought, his descent into heroin addiction, his friendship and collaboration with Andy Warhol and his grieving and further spiral into drugs upon Warhol’s death.

The 90-minute film ends with observations about his last show in April 1988 (a bleak prophecy or a massive cry for help), a pictorial retrospective of his work and the man himself and Fab 5 Freddy reciting Langston Hughes’ Genius Child, changing the last line to “Free him – and let his soul run wild.” 

When he died, Basquiat left over 1,000 drawing and paintings.  What I realized after watching this documentary is that the true last line of the poem is more accurate, “Kill him – and let his soul run wild.”  Was it really the heroin that killed Jean-Michel Basquiat, or was the katzenjammer of loneliness that often shadows success?  Maybe Jean-Michel Basquiat was murdered long ago by the press, the art elitists that control the New York and international art scene and straphangers that latched on to his coattails for a ride.  Maybe the heroin overdose really did free him to allow his soul to run unbridled and unburdened. 

Artists, especially great ones, always offer profound commentary about the history of our world and reflect the current circumstances of our society, sometimes even predicting it in their work. Basquiat was known for using the expression “Boom for real.”  Perhaps he knew he was not meant to wither and age, but instead, he was more like a comet illuminating the sky, fleeting, wondrous to behold and leaving fiery fragments behind – evidence that signifies that what was witnessed truly existed.

To learn more or order Jean Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child, click http://www.jean-michelbasquiattheradiantchild.com/.

Top Play for 2010

Time Stands Still

In 2010, the best that Broadway had to offer was at the Cort Theatre.  First theatre-goers were dazzled with the revival of Fences and in the fall they were awed by the debut of Time Stands Still on Broadway.  Like The Scottsboro Boys the buzz created by Time Stands Still during its Off-Broadway run demanded that this production come to Broadway.  This is a grown-ass play dealing with grown up, modern relationship issues.  Time waits for no man, but sometimes it pauses briefly for a display of greatness.  To read F.A.M.E NYC’s full review of Time Stands Still, click http://famenycmagazine.com/2010/10/17/time-is-on-their-side/.

Photos:  Joan Marcus

Top Off-Broadway Play for 2010

Freud’s Last Session

Imagine if Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson had fought for the heavyweight crown, or Michael Jordan and Lebron James had a one on one game or Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy had a 90-minute “Yo Mama” session.  Can you imagine that?  If you can, then you can picture the mental match that transpired between the 20th century’s greatest thinkers in what could possibly be the most sophisticated “what if” ever imagined.   I could not stop raving about Freud’s Last Session.  Even if it was fictional, the play offered audiences the opportunity to get up close and personal with Dr. Freud and C.S. Lewis.  It is my hope that Freud’s Last Session has not seen its last run in NYC.  To read F.A.M.E NYC’s full review of Freud’s Last Session, click http://famenycmagazine.com/2010/09/20/duel-on-the-couch-freud%e2%80%99s-last-session/.

Photos: Kevin Sprague